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With superb skill and feeling, Graham Greene retraces the experiences and encounters of his extraordinary life. His restlessness is legendary; as if seeking out danger, Greene travelled to Haiti during the nightmare rule of Papa Doc, Vietnam in the last days of the French, Kenya during the Mau Mau rebellion. With ironic delight he recalls his time in the British Secret Service in Africa, and his brief involvement in Hollywood. He writes, as only he can, about people and places, about faith, doubt, fear and, not least, the trials and craft of writing.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780099282594
ISBN-10: 0099282593
Format: Paperback
(198mm x 129mm x 20mm)
Pages: 320
Imprint: Vintage
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publish Date: 2-Sep-1999
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Reviews

US Kirkus Review » In no sense an autobiography - "Those parts of a life most beloved of columnists remain outside the scope of this book" - this is a suavely arranged, roughly chronological group of personal essays, most of them previously published: the introductions to the British collected edition of Greene's oeuvre; reportage from international trouble spots (Greene has sought peril as one "way of escape" from a vaguely defined angst); salutes to two or three friends; plus a few anecdotes and reflections. A book, then, largely for longtime, passionate readers of Greene's novels - who will learn here how he now rates each book, what real-life circumstances did (or didn't) lie behind the fiction, how Greene differs with his critics, which books came easy and which were all torture. (The Confidential Agent was written in six weeks on Benzedrine, "as though I were ghosting for another man.") He is often self-deprecating, especially about the early novels: "Here are examples of my style in those days and my terrible misuse of simile and metaphor." He tells how, in the mid-1930s, his writing changed with his "desire to be a spectator of history" (specifically, then, the theo-political crises in Spain and Mexico). He bridles at the critics' characterization of all Greene locales as "Greeneland": "'This is Indochina,' I want to exclaim, 'this is Mexico, this is Sierra Leone carefully and accurately described.'" He wearyingly shakes off the label of "Catholic writer" ("detestable term!"), having found himself "used and exhausted by the victims of religion" who looked to him for spiritual guidance: "I was like a man without medical knowledge in a village struck with plague." (A moving, convincing appreciation of Evelyn Waugh centers on devout EW's pain over Greene's openness to doubt and sympathy for atheism: we "inhabited different wastelands.") And, along with the often-eloquent record of each novel's evolution, there are brief comments on short stories, playwrighting, screenwriting (a mini-sketch of chum Alexander Korda, whose work Greene didn't admire), touchstones (Ford's The Good Soldier), and fame ("A reputation is like a death mask"). But, while all of this hangs together nicely enough as a purely writer's-eye view of a life's work, the pieces which take Greene abroad and sometimes into action - in Malaya, 1950s Vietnam (the French war), Kenya, Haiti - are less satisfying: fragmentary, digressive, politically opinionated, these vignettes often tease without then delivering (a mere passing reference to tea with Ho Chi Minh); and Greene himself pops up in personal situations (smoking opium, frequenting brothels) that hardly jibe with the self-concealing tenor of most of the book. Overall, in fact, the problem here is that this is a consideration of "ways of escape" with no real sense of what is being escaped from - just the tip of an intriguing, elusive iceberg. Still - the Greene prose is as deceptively clean-cut and subtly ironic as ever; and his own commentaries on the fiction are of course an invaluable complement to the widely divergent opinions of the Marxists, Catholics, and others. So: not the memoir some might hope for - even less a sort of life than A Sort of Life (1971) - but, on its own terms, sufficiently alluring. (Kirkus Reviews)


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Author Biography - Graham Greene

Graham Greene was born in 1904. He worked as a journalist and critic, and in 1940 became literary editor of the Spectator. He was later employed by the Foreign Office. As well as his many novels, Graham Greene wrote several collections of short stories, four travel books, six plays, three books of autobiography, two of biography and four books for children. He also wrote hundreds of essays, and film and book reviews. Graham Greene was a member of the Order of Merit and a Companion of Honour. He died in April 1991.

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